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Israel let some wounded children leave Gaza for treatment, leaving thousands behind

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

For the first time in almost two months, Israel has allowed a small group of medical patients - in this case, children - to leave Gaza for treatment. Aid organizations said the move yesterday came after pressure from the U.S. and a Supreme Court challenge in Israel. As NPR's Jane Arraf reports, many thousands more are waiting to be allowed out.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Until early May, Israel allowed out about 50 severely wounded or critically ill patients per day from Gaza. But then Israel began its assault on the city of Rafah to root out Hamas, and all evacuations stopped, say the U.N., medical groups and lawyers.

ADI LUSTIGMAN: Since 7 of May, the Rafah crossing was closed, and no patients could go out.

ARRAF: That's attorney Adi Lustigman with Physicians for Human Rights in Israel.

LUSTIGMAN: We submitted the petition asking for immediate intervention to let the children - and other patients, not only children - go out to get medical care.

ARRAF: The Supreme Court ruling is expected next week. The petition lists about 40 names for urgent evacuation. They're among what the U.N. says are thousands of patients on a waiting list. Aid officials say some have died waiting to be evacuated. Rebuilding Alliance, a California-based aid group, has been lobbying Congresspeople to pressure Israel to allow patients out and lift restrictions on medical aid missions. Nisreen Malley, the group's advocacy manager, says, after last October, it was White House intervention that persuaded Israel to evacuate child cancer patients. She says that pressure is needed again.

NISREEN MALLEY: After the May 7 border closure of Rafah, the medical missions actually were stopped, and then they were recently started back up again through the Kerem Shalom border crossing. There are heavy restrictions on both what the doctors can bring but also on the background of the doctors.

ARRAF: Dr. Ali Elaydi, a Yale orthopedic surgeon, was on one of those missions in April. He's American, from Texas, but born in Gaza. He planned to go again, but then...

ALI ELAYDI: Less than 48 hours before my supposed entry into Gaza, I was informed by the World Health Organization that I was rejected. I had already traveled to Jordan.

ARRAF: The email from the U.N.'s health organization said Israel's new policy banned doctors and nurses who had Palestinian parents or grandparents. Israeli officials did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did the World Health Organization nor the State Department. When Elaydi went in April, each team member was allowed to bring in 10 suitcases full of desperately needed medical supplies. In June, it was none.

Dr. Jomana Al-Hinti from Toledo, Ohio, was one of the American physicians trapped at the European Hospital in Gaza when the Rafah offensive began. Al-Hinti is Jordanian American with Palestinian parents. The only neurologist, a fluent Arabic speaker and a woman, she was invaluable to the hospital. She decided to go again.

JOMANA AL-HINTI: And everything was going fine. And then finally, the new news came out that they would not allow doctors or healthcare workers with Palestinian origins to enter.

(CROSSTALK)

ARRAF: Since October, Israel has banned journalists from entering Gaza unless they're on an Israeli army tour. We catch glimpses from video from Gaza journalists facing constant risk and from phone conversations, like the one I had last night with Dr. Alaa Al Masri at the European Hospital in Gaza. He's a young doctor - an intern - but he was one of only two physicians on the emergency ward overnight.

ALAA AL MASRI: Suddenly, there came a lot of injured. Most of the patients were on the ground. When I returned, I noticed a small children on the ground. No one had seen him.

ARRAF: He said some people accidentally stepped on the unconscious boy. Dr. Al Masri resuscitated him. But his family was also injured, and it's unclear if they survived.

(CROSSTALK)

ARRAF: It was indescribable, Dr. Al Masri said of the chaos and the crowding in the ER after the explosion. But in Gaza, the indescribable has become the almost everyday.

Jane Arraf, NPR News, Beirut.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jane Arraf
Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.